Given the overwhelming consensus that our universe at some point began to exist, there would seem to be three explanations for its existence:
1. The universe had no cause.
2. The universe had a cause, which was impersonal.
3. The universe had a cause, which was personal.
Although there are some who may disagree (and I welcome your disagreements in the comment section), I believe the first explanation can be convincingly ruled out using the Kalam cosmological argument. This argument is widely employed by followers of the major monotheistic religions. It can be presented as follows:
– Whatever begins to exist has a cause
– The universe began to exist
– Therefore, the universe has a cause
In order to serve as a valid explanation, this cause must itself be uncaused (or at least trace its origins to a cause that was uncaused). Hence, we have the definition of God as the Prime Mover. The first domino in the chain. And this is where religious and non-religious individuals often reach an impasse. “If God caused the universe to exist,” the skeptic asks, “then what caused God to exist?” To the non-religious, defining God as a Prime Mover seems like special pleading – an attempt to dodge the implications of turtles all the way down.
As I was thinking about this issue the other day, I realized that much of this debate might actually stem from one’s views on free will.
DISCLAIMER: I’m a scientist, not a philosopher. The following is my own amateurish speculation, so I welcome your feedback and criticism. I’ll update the post if I learn something new.
Anyway, it would seem that the belief in free will actually entails the belief in uncaused causes. Those of us who accept the idea of free will believe that human consciousness stems from an interaction between the brain (a physical entity) and the soul (a non-physical entity). Our thoughts and actions are not simply the inevitable byproduct of physical events in the brain. When I decide to purchase chocolate ice cream, this decision is influenced by a variety of tangible factors (it’s 90°F outside; my parents served me ice cream as a child; etc.). Yet the decision is ultimately a byproduct of my free will, which generates the decision in a non-physical manner. This can be (clumsily) described as an “uncaused cause”, which would be unique to creatures possessing a will.
Given a belief in free will, we have grounds for believing that a timeless and spaceless Entity, possessing will, could indeed fill the role of Prime Mover. This Entity – God – provides the ontologically prior “cause” for the universe. This leads us to conclude option 3: “the universe had a cause, which was personal”.
For the determinist, free will is an illusion. All of our thoughts and actions are the inevitable result of physical events. Given this view, it makes sense to ask the question, “If God caused the universe to exist, then what caused God to exist?” The entire concept of a Prime Mover seems preposterous, because the determinist has no precedent for believing in uncaused causes.